Lewis Hamilton claims 100th pole in qualifying for Spanish Grand Prix
Mercedes driver joined by Red Bull title rival Max Verstappen on the front row of the grid
Lewis Hamilton hit another major milestone in his illustrious career on Saturday when the Mercedes world champion claimed a 100th Formula One pole at the Spanish Grand Prix.
The championship leader's latest achievement puts him 32 clear of Michael Schumacher in the all-time pole chart and leaves him in prime position to secure a record-extending 98th win in Sunday's race.
"I'll always remember that one," he said.
Alongside the 36-year-old Briton on the front row in Barcelona will be his Red Bull title rival Max Verstappen, who trails Hamilton by eight points in the drivers' standings after the first three races.
Hamilton reached his century 14 years after securing his maiden pole in the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix, which he went on to win to take the first step on the road to becoming F1's most successful driver.
He drew level and overtook Schumacher's record haul of 91 wins last season and leads the drivers' standings this season as he goes for an unprecedented eighth world crown.
"I can't believe we are at 100 and it's down to the men and women back at the factory who are continuously raising the bar," Hamilton said. "The support I have, it's a dream to work with these guys.
"Who would have though at the end of 2012 when we made the decision to partner, we'd be qualifying at 100. I feel humble and grateful – it's like my first!"
Verstappen, who won the Italian Grand Prix last month and has joined Hamilton on the podium at every race so far this season, at last has a car up to the job of mounting a serious title challenge.
The Dutch driver got to within 0.036sec to Hamilton's fastest lap on Saturday to join him at the head of the Montmelo circuit grid.
"It was good. I struggled in Q1 but we sorted out the balance in Q2," Verstappen said. "Q3 both laps were pretty decent, the second run was a little worse. It is quite gusty. Nevertheless second for us is very good. We know they are hard to beat around here. To be that close we can be happy with that."
Hamilton's Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas will start third alongside Charles Leclerc for Ferrari on the second row. The Finn, who claimed pole in Portugal last weekend and has two third-place finishes so far this season, is expecting a strong challenge from Red Bull at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Sunday.
"That was close. I was definitely in the battle for the pole and I think the first runs in Q3 were faster ones but in Turn 10, I had snap at the apex and lost a tenth or so, and that's the margins of the pole. With a strong package, it's going to be a good fight tomorrow, no doubt," Bottas said.
"I think it'll be close between us and Red Bull. I think there are possibilities to do one stop or two stop – but I'm not going to reveal ours!"
If Verstappen does not want to fight the Mercedes cars alone, he will need to see big improvements from teammate Sergio Perez who could only qualify in eighth position. The Mexican will be joined on the fourth row of the grid by McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo.
The third row will be occupied by Renault's Esteban Ocon and Carlos Sainz Jr in the second Ferrari.
The man to beat, however, will undoubtedly be the man on pole. Hamilton has a superb record in Catalonia, winning the race in each of the last four years with five wins altogether.
Updated: May 8, 2021 07:27 PM